Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Of Cans of Worms and Other Things

In working up a master spell list, I find that each decision can potentially have huge consequences across the system. It seems easy to say you want to develop an iconic, streamlined version of the rules. But, the more you start to tinker, the more you have the potential to muck things up... Here are some of the internal debates that pop up...

- When does something become a sacred cow that you're maintaining just to maintain it? Snake charm is a funky, quirky spell. It's something of a 'classic'... but it really makes no sense. It's sort of random. Why not just charm animal? It's more useful and versatile. A spell that ONLY charms snakes? How utilitarian is that?

- Where is the line between versatility and taking all of the flavor out of the spell system? Wall of ice and wall of fire are effectively the same spell, with a different duration component (wall of fire requires concentration; wall of ice lasts for a while). They are mechanically the same. Why not just elemental wall and you get to choose the wall type? A wall of solid lightning, a wall of flame, a wall of ice, a wall of water... they are mechanically the same. I've just taken two spells, merged them into one spell entry, and made them more flexible. That's a win!

- Then, I take the same thinking to fireball and lightning bolt... what about elemental ball and elemental bolt... you can have balls of frost, or balls of lightning... or bolts of cold, bolts of fire... and suddenly it feels like all of the quirky coolness of the magic system has been ripped from it. I've applied the same thinking from elemental wall above, and suddenly it doesn't feel like a win anymore. It feels like a 'general' magic system and not a specific, nuanced and quirky one. That happened fast... so can magic missile be 'missile of flame' or 'missile of frost' or 'missile of light'... if we call it 'arcane dart' instead of 'magic missile', we can make it deal any type of energy we want. And then we're writing a different game. But then again, I am writing a different game... aren't I?

There is a point where we jump the shark and no longer are writing the next edition of B/X, but an entirely new thing altogether. And, while that is not necessarily a bad thing, that's not my fundamental design approach.

Then again, it tiers things nicely to have a progression of spells that are your 'baseline attack spell' at each level...

  • Arcane Dart. Level 1. Deals 1d6 + caster level damage. Hits a target within 120' automatically.
  • Arcane Bolt. Level 2. Deals 1d4 per caster level damage to all creatures in a line 5' wide and 60' long. Affected creatures may save for half damage. 
  • Arcane Burst. Level 3. Throw a ball up to 120' that explodes with a 20' radius, dealing 1d6 per caster level damage to all creatures in the area of effect. Affected creatures may save for half damage.
  • Arcane Wall. Level 4. Erect a wall of magical energy with a total length of up to 60'. Creatures less than 4 HD cannot move through the wall. Creatures of 4 or more HD moving through the wall suffer 2d6 damage (4d6 if of the opposite type: fire giants take 4d6 damage when moving through a wall of ice).